Isn’t menopause hard enough between the hot flashes, night sweats, impaired sleep, fatigue, and irritability without adding bloating into the mix? Moving into menopause may also mean we get a fullness in our bellies, more fat around the midsection, and jeans we just can’t button anymore.
Did you know that up to 60% of women transitioning through menopause may experience frequent gas and bloating? And that in western countries, irritable bowel syndrome is 4x more common in women as they reach perimenopause?
During perimenopause, the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone fluctuate and become erratic. While both estrogen and progesterone are declining at this time, estrogen tends to decline at a slower rate, often causing estrogen dominance. Increased estrogen in our systems tends to attract more water, contributing to belly bloat, general puffiness throughout the body, and more pounds on the scale.
Digestion and the health of our GI tract plays an even bigger role in gas and bloating. We have hormone receptors throughout our gut, thus progesterone and estrogen help keep the muscles in the gut working smoothly and consistently, preventing constipation. As menopause hits and those hormones permanently decline, digestive impairment becomes more of an issue. Our stomachs make less hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes and bile, hindering our ability to adequately digest food. This can lead to symptoms of heartburn, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
More importantly this causes changes to our gut microbiota. Estrogen is primarily broken down by a group of balanced bacteria found in the digestive tract and then it is bound to bile to be excreted through the feces. If you have an imbalance of bacteria in your gut (dysbiosis) and/or low bile production, your estrogen metabolism may become incomplete or impaired. This causes excess estrogen to recirculate instead of being efficiently eliminated. Not only does this excess estrogen have the potential to become carcinogenic, but it contributes to bloating and gas.
Couple this with years of stress, poor diet, and medications (hormone replacement therapy, antibiotics, over the counter pain killers, and/or acid reducers) and you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to adequate GI health and function. If your gut is already having to cope with inflammation triggered by alcohol, certain foods, lack of sleep, and medication, it will affect the way you digest and assimilate nutrients leading to an array of symptoms.
Just because bloating is a common symptom experienced during menopause, it doesn’t mean you have to live with it indefinitely. While it’s bound to happen occasionally due to a poor meal choice or hormonal shift, following these guidelines may help you better manage your bloat.
Some simple steps to try to improve gas and bloating on your own include:
Make changes to your diet – ditch the carbs and focus on nutrient dense foods. As menopause approaches, women lose the ability to adequately use carbohydrates for energy, contributing to bloat and weight gain. Replace refined grains and sugars with fiber rich vegetables and fruits instead.
Sit down and eat in a more leisurely fashion. Say goodbye to eating on the go. Reduce stress by unplugging your phone before sitting down for your meal. Slowly chew your food thoroughly before swallowing it and pace yourself between bites. Your meal time should be your break and respite. You may also benefit from intermittent fasting – a great mechanism for curbing bloating, weight loss and giving your GI tract a reset.
Bloating can be supported with digestive enzymes, and possibly hydrochloric acid supplements, taken during meals.
Stay hydrated and address constipation. If your bowels aren’t moving, you are accumulating estrogen, promoting dysbiosis, and stalling adequate digestion upstream. Drinking more fluids, eliminating constipating foods such as grains, sugars and dairy, and increasing magnesium intake is a start. Consider taking up to 400 mg of magnesium glycinate nightly to promote more regular bowels.
Incorporate probiotics in to your daily menu of foods and supplements. Probiotic rich foods include kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and fermented vegetables. A broad spectrum probiotic is essential – I recommend Therbiotic Women’s Formula which also has strains that promote weight loss.
Want to Dig Deeper?
Doctors get taught in medical school that menopausal symptoms are just a result of falling and/or erratic estrogen levels. Every woman will have falling levels of hormones, but not every woman has symptoms……why is that? Because nutrition and lifestyle play the biggest part. Maybe it's time to dig deeper!
GI testing is an insightful tool to help you truly know what is going on inside of the gut – do you have imbalanced bacteria or parasites that need to be addressed? How is your digestion – are you adequately making digestive enzymes and breaking down fats? Do you have inflammation in your colon? Are you recirculating your estrogen lending you to higher risk of estrogen dominant symptoms and cancer? Do you have leaky gut contributing to allergies or food intolerances? All of these things can be uncovered with testing! Test don’t guess. Schedule your appointment here, so that I can help you get to the root cause of your symptoms and get you on a path to feeling your optimal self.
Disclaimer: This article discusses common causes and possible preventative strategies for bloating caused by digestive changes in perimenopause and menopause. It is not intended to diagnose or be a substitute for medical care. In some instances bloating can be a symptom of a serious disease, so please discuss any concerning symptoms with your licensed health care provider.